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NBA AM: Time For The Lakers To Unleash Russell

The Lakers have taken a cautious approach with rookie D’Angelo Russell. It may be time to fully unleash him.

Lang Greene profile picture
Updated 10 months ago on
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Are the Lakers Bringing D’Angelo Russell Along Too Slow?

The Los Angeles Lakers (4-21) appear to be headed to their third consecutive trip to the lottery next June. The franchise is also officially destined to begin a new era with future Hall of Fame guard Kobe Bryant partaking in his farewell tour and the team has failed in recent years to lure marquee free agents to town (despite having cap room).

Los Angeles surprised many this past June in the draft by selecting guard D’Angelo Russell with the second overall pick instead of talented big man Jahlil Okafor. The move was an outside-of-the-box decision, going with the recent trend of the NBA being heavily dominated by elite guard play and less by traditional big men.

While Russell had a stellar season at Ohio State University and possessed the size and offensive abilities fitting the current game, Okafor was coming off a national title campaign during his lone season at Duke University.

As we pass the quarter mark of the 2015-16 campaign, Russell isn’t in the Rookie of the Year discussion while Okafor (third overall), Karl-Anthony Towns (top pick) and Kristaps Porzingis (fourth overall) are dominating the early headlines.

Here are the base level stats for the top four picks of the 2015 Draft:

Karl-Anthony Towns: 15 points, 9 rebounds, 2.2 blocks, 24 games

D’Angelo Russell: 12.3 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 25 games

Jahlil Okafor: 17.8 points, 8.1 rebounds, 1.5 blocks, 24 games

Kristaps Porzingis: 13.6 points, 8.4 rebounds, 1.8 blocks, 25 games

All of these guys are averaging between 27-32 minutes per night, but Russell has the lowest usage rate compared to his peers in this group – Towns (23.6), Russell (22.6), Okafor (28.1) and Porzingis (23.9).

Russell’s numbers are a bit deflated due to the Lakers’ insistence on keeping Bryant in a role where he dominates the ball, but sooner or later Los Angeles will have to remove the training wheels from their future franchise cornerstone in order to see what he has under the hood.

Consider that in the nine games Russell has received 30 or more minutes, he’s posted averages of 16.3 points, 5 rebounds and 4.1 assists while knocking down 24 three-pointers at a 41 percent clip.

Lakers head coach Byron Scott is ushering Russell into the league slowly and the rookie is paying his dues while learning on the job, but there will come a time this season when the team decides to put Russell in a lead role to get a better indication of their future needs.

Pelicans Looking to Buy in the Trade Market

The New Orleans Pelicans surprised many last season by winning 45 contests in a stacked Western Conference and reaching the playoffs. The Pelicans pulled this off despite missing All-Star forward Anthony Davis for more than 10 games.

So, naturally, expectations were high for the unit entering the 2015-16 campaign after making a head coaching change and essentially keeping the same core group of guys in place.

However, early season success has eluded the Pelicans (6-18) and the losses continue to pile up. Injuries are once again rampant and the team is still adjusting to Alvin Gentry’s system.

With the team’s playoff hopes fading fast, reports continue to surface stating the club is open to dealing talented forward Ryan Anderson for the right assets in return.

According to John Reid of the Times-Picayune: “Backup power forward Ryan Anderson remains a viable trade piece for the Pelicans, sources say. The Pelicans have had exploratory conversations with the Phoenix Suns since last week involving a possible trade involving power forward Markieff Morris in exchange for Anderson, who is in the final year of his contract that will pay him $8.5 million this season.”

Reid’s report is the latest in a series of confirmations that Anderson is available for the right price. Basketball Insiders publisher Steve Kyler recently opined the same messaging earlier this month, stating that Anderson is the most likely Pelican on the move if a deal can be reached.

Anderson’s value lies in his ability to stretch opposing defenses. The veteran forward is averaging 18 points, 6.9 rebounds and 1.1 assists in 32 minutes per game this season. Anderson is averaging 2.1 three-point field goals per game and knocking down those long-range bombs at a 37 percent clip.

Anderson is approaching free agency and could walk out the door, leaving the Pelicans with nothing in return. Shooting guard Eric Gordon is also headed to free agency next summer giving general manager Dell Demps more than a few items to consider as we approach the trade deadline.

Lang Greene is a senior NBA writer for Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA for the last 10 seasons

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